“We’re running out of time.”
But I know that. He tells me again when my silence fails to give way to the fight he wants, or to the decision, or to anything, and then he says, Look at me. He begs.
I can’t – no – that’s not true.
I find an ant wobbling across the ground and I watch it. We can’t rid the house of them. Every windowsill, every place where wall meets floor, I’ve traced over and over with peppermint oil, and then with salt, as though an ant could be treated the way a foul spirit might be treated. When we still cooked in the kitchen, when we still ate together, and we haven’t for some time, I would gather up each crumb and lock it away. I would take the trash out, half-full, quarter-full, each and every night though it was wasteful. Still they came. I’m not sure what they were after, or what they want now, or what substance they know of in this house that I cannot and will never find.
I think what he means, when he says time, is not quite time itself (though, of course, the lease is up tomorrow), but rather, something that decays with it. Strength, maybe, but our joints are not yet so old and neither of us is hungry. He’s just eaten – I can smell the trace of blackberries left on his tongue, his mouth is that close to mine – but it’s the before-breakfast voice he uses now, as if it might convince me that I am freshly awoken from a dream. As if I might return to that dream, if only I closed my eyes and breathed like a sleeper breathes, or if I were to look up, as he wants, and fall deeply into his.
Passion, perhaps, which we had so much of a year ago, and more, still, another year before that. Is that what he means? I could kiss him again now, and it would feel like nothing, except, I imagine, a little bit like glue. Sweet glue, blackberry stick. But it cannot be passion he means, because he is idealistic but not so naïve, and we cannot be running out now because we already have. If we kissed it would be no different than brushing shoulders with some anonymous body on the train.
Chances, then. It dawns on me and from then I do not consider anything else. We are not old – I’ve said that already, and I say it again to myself, we are not old – but neither are we young like spring is young in March. I have found single threads of gray behind my left ear, and crow’s feet perch in the corner of his eyes. Every laugh, all at once, etched into a face that I know so well. I will be there, for the next one to see, because in it he carries the love he felt for me. He carries the passion of years ago, and the dinners we cooked together, though when he looks at those lines in pictures, in mirrors, he will not see me there.
The next one. That’s where his thoughts are, and I guess mine, too, though for now we are still together and still close enough that I can smell the blackberries. The next ones might not want us soon, is what, I think, he’s trying to say. Time is taking our beauty, and our charm, and our lust for life even as we sit here and lament it, and resent it, resent each other. Taking it and breathing it into the lungs of babies, or college students, or what’s the difference.
We think this because we are young, like summer is in June, even on days when the sun is hot. We tell ourselves we think like this because it is practical.
Now I look at him, as he asked, because I want to see myself there. I take his face in my hand because I want to replace my thumbprint with the lines of our lives together, and gently I run my thumb over his laughs and his smiles and try to memorize them, and think how lucky is he to have kept this diary while I have not.
He can’t hold my gaze (and I can tell this difference in him, can’t, versus doesn’t). He looks away and takes us with him, and beneath my thumb now is summer air and nothing more.
We hadn’t meant to pack our things separately. I don’t think we realized, even, that we were doing it. Only that my records were different from his books, and his mugs different from my glassware, my candles a separate thing from his lighter. A life, materially, became two lives as cleanly as a row of stitches becomes a scar, and we could split the boxes evenly and leave each of us with an individual Enough.
My couch, his bed.
I return to his statement in the literal sense, running out of time because we will load these boxes as one life or as two, and we will do so tonight, and if it will be two, after all, it will be easier to decide now which it will be. Physically easier, materialistically easier. The Next One is not so important now, only the strength of my arms, and whether they (and I) wish to take the risk of lifting my couch more than once.
My arms are tired.
I will be the one to go.
I watch, in the coming weeks, for signs of pregnancy, because I think it will be a fitting punishment for wishing that the memories along his eyes had a counterpart on my own body. I don't know if it's normal to wait for pain like that, to half wish for it. I think of people in soap operas, or what I've heard of them, who leave a life behind only to feel it kick inside them, and so they must decide all over again which path they truly intend to walk. I think, I have always been more dramatic than the life I inhabit. Maybe what I'm waiting for is a way to rip him from me in a way I can’t undo.
My period comes like all the others.
Years from now, he will have children, though I never will. A mutual friend will show me a picture which I will not ask to see, and it will occur to me to wonder what those children would look like had they been mine. Maybe their eyes would be green. I don’t know. All I can picture is a window, left open, to let the bugs in.
Others, by then, have drawn their lines along my face.
It is the last picture of him I will ever see, and because he is not the one who carved age into my eyes over the course of several particularly funny bottles of wine, I eventually forget to think of him.
But, when I spot an ant and watch it work, there sometimes follows on the breeze a distant scent of blackberries.